Regis Nedlands resident Tamara Plastovets rung in a significant milestone when she celebrated her 90th birthday this month, on Friday 17 June.
But this latest achievement has particular significance for the great-grandmother who narrowly escaped with her life when she and her daughter and son-in-law fled central Ukraine three months ago to escape Russian bombing. Fortunately, Tamara found temporary refuge in Poland, before being accepted as a refugee by the Australian government.
Tamara’s assimilation into life at Regis Nedlands, a purpose-built, contemporary aged care home in Perth’s western suburbs, is testament to the resilience she has cultivated throughout her life, according to her granddaughter, Olena Yukhymets, who has called Perth home with her Australian husband for over a decade.
“My grandmother knows she has lost her life in Ukraine and will never set foot in her home country again, but she has faced many adversities over her 90 years and she has incredible resilience,” says Olena, whose oldest daughter – now aged six – was named Tamara after her great-grandmother.
“She has always remained extremely positive and very grateful, her attitude is that you only have one life and you have a choice about how to navigate through challenges and difficulties, and how you can gain strength from adversities.”
Tamara Plastovets (nee Chrystenko) was born in the small town of Torez in 1932. Although her schooling was interrupted by the Second World War, she was committed to her education and was given the opportunity to go on to university where she studied chemistry and pharmacology. This led to a lifelong career as a high school chemistry teacher.
“Grandma would often tell us the story of when she had just started university and only had one pair of canvas shoes, which caused her feet to freeze in the winter,” says Olena.
“She wrote to her mother to say she would come back home to live as she couldn’t afford new shoes, but her mum had one good dress and she sold it so that she could send her daughter some money to buy warm shoes, and help with her living expenses.
“My grandmother tells this story often, she utterly cherishes what her mum did for her and, as a result, she was able to graduate and have a career.”
It was during her university holidays that Tamara met her husband, Olexiy, at a local dance. The couple went on to have two children, a son and daughter.
“Unfortunately her son, my uncle, was killed when he was only 23 years old in the Afghanistan war, after he was sent there to fight by the Soviet contingent,” explains Olena.
“This was another tragedy that my grandmother had to face, and indeed war has brought great tragedy throughout her life, even as early as when she was six years old, when her father was wounded in the Second World War which had the effect of ending her parents’ marriage. War was also the reason why she had to flee Ukraine in March, before which she’d never stepped outside of her country of birth.”
Despite the difficulties she has faced, her family report that Tamara is settling well into Perth life, where she is committed to improving her English and making new friends at her aged care home.
“Grandma is really enjoying the safety, calmness and the normality of life at Regis Nedlands, she is working hard on learning English from her Australian-Ukrainian book and is hoping to be able to impress us all by learning a new language at the age of 90,” adds Olena.
“My grandmother could never have imagined or hoped for a better place to live or better treatment. After the war has taken so much from her it feels like a miracle that she will get to spend her days surrounded by so much care and love. She will now get to make new friends after having to leave her life behind, and she’ll find new, enjoyable activities to replace those she had to abandon when the war forced her to trade her beloved opera house and concert halls for a bomb shelter.
“That she has been offered not only a safe new home but has also gained a new family at Regis Nedlands, just as she celebrates her 90th birthday, is truly a miracle which we, her family, are incredibly grateful for.”
Sam Waldon, Regis Nedlands General Manager, says Tamara is a truly inspiring lady who everyone highly respects, and the entire Regis Nedlands community considers it a privilege to have her living within their Home.
“It’s not every day that we celebrate a milestone with such significance at Regis Nedlands, so everyone here was very excited to be part of Tamara’s momentous day, celebrating her 90th birthday. She is a very special lady who is incredibly brave and resilient, and we wish her a very happy birthday,” Mr Waldron says.
Tamara celebrated her birthday surrounded by family and her new friends at Regis Nedlands before enjoying an outing, celebrating with her Ukrainian community.